“Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just like a punch, a kick just like a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick. Now that I’ve understood the art, a punch is just like a punch, a kick just like a kick. The height of cultivation is really nothing special. It is merely simplicity; the ability to express the utmost with the minimum… a sophisticated fighting style stripped to its essentials.”
This is a quote from the late Bruce Lee. I typically do not like to reference quotes from Bruce Lee when writing about Wing Chun because I believe many people mistakenly use the popularity of Bruce Lee to represent Wing Chun despite the fact Bruce Lee many times advocated against representing any particular style except your own, in his case, Jeet Kune Do. It’s like using MMA fighters like Ronda Rousey or Jon Jones to represent Muay Thai. While they use Muay Thai in MMA and have great Muay Thai technique, they are not Muay Thai fighters. Likewise, although Bruce studied and used Wing Chun in his Jeet Kune Do, Jeet Kune Do is not Wing Chun. Anyway, that is a topic for a different article. The point is the quote is still valid and relevant for our discussion of Wing Chun applications.
The purpose of this article is to give you practical steps on learning, understanding, cultivating, and applying Wing Chun theories and concepts. The study of Wing Chun is like a circle with no circumference. Yes, before you have any understanding, you see a punch or kick and say, “Wow! Look at how that guy got punched (or kicked) in the nose!” Later, once you learn the art, you become the guy punching and kicking. You understand the punch is an uppercut or jab and the kick is a roundhouse or side kick. Then, once you have understood the art, you realize that the name of the punch or kick doesn’t really matter. You realize that the style from which it is thrown doesn’t really matter; whether it is a Muay Thai kick or a Tae Kwon Do kick, really doesn’t matter. You realize that there are an infinite number of ways and styles to punch and kick, but punches and kicks can only come from a limited number of angles based on the anatomy of the human body.
Therefore, regardless of where it comes from and what you call it, it is just a kick. You understand it, the mechanics of it, how it is thrown, how it generates power, its strengths and weaknesses, key points of balance, speed, and timing. Then you are no longer worried about it because you understand the essence of the attack is not in its name or form. It is by dissolving name and form, going back to the beginning to the birth of the form that brings understanding.
What follows may be considered sacrilege within some Wing Chun schools, but will provide you with practical steps to take your Wing Chun to the next level. Note: this is not for beginner students. You must start with an understanding of Wing Chun theory before you can apply it. This article is written for those who have reached the point where they have learned much of the art, understood a punch is no longer a punch and kick no longer a kick, but they seek to return to the simplicity Bruce spoke of where a punch is just a punch and a kick, just a kick.
Step 1- Ask your SiFu. I will write a future article on the differences between a SiFu and a teacher, but if you have a good SiFu, then he or she will care about your personal development as a martial artist. A good SiFu will also have words of wisdom and encouragement to aid you in your quest to improve your Kung Fu. A good SiFu will be able to share his or her own experiences. A good SiFu will not tell you the way, but will help guide you along when you don’t know the way.
Step 2- Study with other SiFus and Lineages. See how they interpret Wing Chun theories and concepts. Perhaps, they can add understanding to your own quest. Some schools forbid training with other SiFus and schools, but no one has all the answers. We need to learn from each other. Ideally, seek out the schools with the best value for you, not always the best teacher.
Some schools are known for their Chi Sao, others for weapon forms, and others for footwork, etc. Know what you are seeking to learn or study. Some schools have very famous teachers, but when you visit the school, you are left studying with a senior student and spend little time with the SiFu. Look for schools with smaller class sizes that allow you to spend time with the SiFu. Coordinate your arrival ahead of time with the SiFu. If possible, have your SiFu introduce you. Avoid schools that seem to be McDojo’s where they cycle students through an assembly line. When in doubt, ask your SiFu.
Step 3- Study with Non-Wing Chun schools. Brace yourself, going full-fledge sacrilege here, but it’s important to learn how others view combat and fighting. I mean really go all out into it. Don’t just attend a trial class and think you got it. Study Muay Thai, study Jiu Jitsu and boxing for 6 months to a year. Learn to punch how they punch and to kick how they kick. By understanding the essence of other arts, you’ll better understand their limitations and how to defeat them. All martial art techniques originate from the human body. Our goal is to find their essence and source, their strengths and weakness, nuances and key points. Only then can we return to seeing a punch as just a punch and a kick as just kick.
Step 4- A Return to Simplicity. To understand and ultimately apply the Wing Chun system, you must understand its essence, the theories and concepts before they became form – form being the physical techniques such as Pak Sao, Tan Sao, and even the forms like Siu Lim Tao and Chum Kiu. Practice by yourself the drills and techniques you’ve learned from your SiFu. Try to figure out if they work, why they work, how to make them work for you. Compare them against Wing Chun theory and concepts. Do the drills and techniques align with the theory? They should, but ask anyway. Try to understand why they align. From there, seek to develop new techniques and applications based on YOUR understanding of those concepts, you will likely end up with something that is unique to you and not classical Wing Chun. That’s the point. See what you come up with. This takes creativity and introspection, making Wing Chun your own.
Step 5- Experimentation and Cultivation. Test what you’ve learned and developed on your own. Test it through sparring, drills, and especially in your own private training. Does it work? Does it fit within Wing Chun theory? If it works for you, continue to practice what you’ve learned, improve it, and make it second nature. Perfect practice makes perfect.
Step 6- Wing Chun Fighting. Now, that you’ve tested it, cultivated it, and incorporated it into your Wing Chun, you must fight with it. MMA fighters are some of the toughest fighters in the world compared to fighters from traditional martial arts because MMA fighters generally have more fighting experience. They compete constantly. Yes, it’s a sport and not real life, but it’s a good pressure cooker for testing our abilities.
I’m not advocating that you must climb into the ring or cage and fight, but you must go all out in some venue. There is no substitute for all out fighting. There is no way to generate the effects, the knowledge gained, the principles learned, and the courage developed from a fight. Typically, when students spar, they are not trying to hurt one another because the idea of sparring is to learn and you want to preserve your partner from getting injured so you both can continue learning. However, in a fight, this is not the case. You need to find folks with whom you can put on protective gear, go all out, and bang (Disclaimer: Because of the world we live in I got to say this- I’m not responsible if you get hurt. As a matter of fact, expect to get injured, hurt, bruised, and battered. That’s Kung Fu life, suck it up).
Step 7- Starting Over. Return to the basics. Return to the forms, Siu Lim Tao, Chum Kiu, Biu Jee. Return to the drills and patterns you learned from SiFu. Reinforce those drills. Use the new understanding you’ve acquired to enhance your understanding of the existing drills and techniques. You’ll likely notice something minor that you haven’t been doing in one of the drills or in sparring and by changing that one little error, your entire practice improves. You’ll also notice increased awareness of your opponent’s stance and posture, telegraphed techniques, and other movements without thinking about it. When you’re sparring, instead of seeing an opponent in front of you, you see angles, lines of attack and defense. It’s a totally different world.
Step 8- Repeat. A circle with no circumference. Continue to repeat these steps. Wing Chun is a never ending journey. Enjoy it. Don’t worry about being the next Ip Man or Bruce Lee, be you and have fun.
Anyway, I hope this helps. There are no drills I can give you or any special secrets. It’s a very individual journey and must start with you and your Kung Fu. The key point is to don’t be afraid to interpret Wing Chun theory and concepts. Most just attempt to mimic and follow Ip Man’s interpretation, but none of us is Ip Man. As Ip Man himself once said, “If you believe everything I say then you will never become a good fighter.” Don’t believe everything I or your SiFu and SiHing tell you. Test it out for yourself. Make Wing Chun your own, personalize it, explore, test it, mold it, shape it, fight with it, and keep an open mind.
Wishing you peace and goodwill.
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